Substantial areas of Māori land were confiscated by the government after the New Zealand wars of the early 1860s. On 5 May 1863, Premier Alfred Domett sent a memorandum to Governor George Grey proposing that Māori in a ‘state of rebellion’ have their lands confiscated as a punishment. At first confiscation was intended to be relatively restricted, but it gradually became more and more elaborate. Land was confiscated both from tribes who had rebelled against the government and from those who had fought as government allies. It was envisaged that military settlers would be placed on confiscated land.
Confiscations under the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863 and its amendments took place in South Auckland, Waikato, Tauranga, Ōpōtiki–Whakatāne, Taranaki, and the Mōhaka–Waikare district in Hawke’s Bay. Confiscations also took place in Poverty Bay under separate legislation.
The biggest confiscations (‘raupatu’ in Māori) were in Waikato and Taranaki. The effects varied from region to region, but the consequences were very severe for Waikato–Tainui tribes; Taranaki tribes; Ngāi Te Rangi in Tauranga; and Ngāti Awa, Whakatōhea and Tūhoe in the eastern Bay of Plenty.
Confiscation in New Zealand has affinities with British practice in other places, particularly 17th-century Ireland and the southern African colonies. Māori naturally resented the confiscations, and some prominent Pākehā criticised the process from the start. Sir William Martin, the former chief justice, published a paper in 1863 in which he argued that the history of Ireland showed ‘how little is to be effected towards the quieting of a country by the confiscation of private land’. All that resulted was a ‘brooding sense of wrong’. 1
Some land returned
Not all confiscated land was retained by the Crown. Much was returned to Māori, although not always to its original owners. Some ‘returned’ areas were then purchased by the Crown. This happened at Tauranga, where a large part of the ‘returned’ area was purchased from a group of Ngāi Te Rangi chiefs and vested in the Crown shortly afterwards.
The history of each confiscation became very confused and often generated large quantities of amending legislation, petitions, and litigation in the courts. In 1869 Donald McLean, by that time native minister in the Fox–Vogel government, concluded that the confiscations were nothing but an expensive mistake.